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ClassicsOnline Home » RUBINSTEIN: Soirees Musicales, Op. 109
Soirées musicales, Op.
No. 1, Allegro con
No. 2, Presto
No. 3, Con moto
No. 4, Allegro
No. 5, Allegro
No. 6, Andante
No. 7, Con moto assai
No. 8, Allegro con
No. 9, Moderato con
Anton Rubinstein was one of 19th century's most charismatic music
figures. Rivaled at the keyboard only by Liszt, he was near the last in a line
of pianist-composers that climaxed with Liszt, Busoni, and Rachmaninov. Like
them, Rubinstein's reputation as a composer in his day was much more
controversial than his reputation as a performer. But unlike them, his vast
compositional output, much of it containing music of beauty and originality, still
remains relatively unexplored territory.
Rubinstein was born of Slavic-Jewish-German descent in the small Russian
village of Vekhvatinets, about 100 miles northwest of Odessa, on the 28th of
November, 1829. He was the third in a family of six. The family moved in 1834
to Moscow, where Anton's father set up a pencil factory. Anton at first studied
piano from his mother, then when eight years of age was entrusted to Alexandre
Villoing, a prominent teacher who had been a pupil of John Field. Child prodigies
were then all the rage in Europe, so in 1839 Villoing took his gifted young
protégé first to Paris, then for concerts in other parts of Europe and England.
Although some notice was taken of Anton, financially the tour barely paid for
itself, and a return was made to Moscow in 1843.
It was decided the following year that Anton, his gifted younger brother
Nicholas and their sister Lúba should be taken to Berlin for further serious
study. For the next two years Anton had counterpoint and harmony lessons with
Siegfried Dehn, a former teacher of Glinka's. Both the brothers also paid
weekly Sunday afternoon visits to Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer when they held open
Anton's father, who had remained in Moscow, died unexpectedly in 1846.
Remembering a cordial meeting with Liszt in Paris, Anton went to Vienna to seek
Liszt's help and advice. But the usually generous Liszt showed indifference. It
was a slight that Rubinstein would later choose to overlook, but never entirely
forget. For the two years Rubinstein lived in poverty while scraping out a bare
income by teaching privately, before returning to Russia in 1848.
Rubinstein's fortunes abruptly changed with his being engaged by the
Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, sister-in-law to Czar Nicholas, as her official
"Chamber Virtuoso" and accompanist to the court singers. For the next
six years Rubinstein played at elegant parties, practised, and composed
His concert career finally began in earnest in 1854 when he embarked on
what became a highly acclaimed four-year extended European tour. Eager
publishers and audiences seemed now to be everywhere. Rubinstein patched up his
relationship with Liszt during a half-year visit to Weimar, and as well began a
close lifelong musical and personal friendship with Saint-Saëns in Paris.
When Rubinstein returned home to St. Petersburg, both he and the Grand
Duchess Pavlovna decided upon sweeping changes for improving Russia's musical
education system. Through their sponsorship, and with Rubinstein serving as
conductor, the Russian Musical Society was founded in 1859. Then in 1862 he
founded the St. Petersburg Conservatory, the first such school in Russia, and
served as Director until 1867. In 1865 Rubinstein married Véra Tschekouanoff,
the daughter of a Russian general. She would bear him two sons and a daughter,
none of whom had any serious musical inclinations.
Rubinstein and the Conservatory soon encountered hostility from the
so-called "Mighty Five" – Balakirev, the leader, and Borodin, Cui,
Rimsky-Korsakov, and Mussorgsky. With the group's aggressive championing of
nationalistic Russian music, Rubinstein was strongly distrusted for his
essentially Germanic, cosmopolitan musical outlook. He wryly lamented that in
Germany he was called a Russian, and in Russia a Jew.
From 1867 until 1870 Rubinstein's extended tours throughout Europe
consolidated his reputation as the greatest pianist alive after Liszt. The
Steinway firm became interested in bringing him to America. After protracted
negotiations, he was engaged during the 1872-73 season for a tour of 215
concerts in 239 days. The tour was shared with the Polish violinist Henryk
Wieniawski and a troupe of singers and other instrumentalists. Rubinstein
capped the tour in New York City with a final seven solo concerts in nine days.
In his autobiography he writes: "The receipts and the success were
invariably gratifying, but it was all so tedious that I began to despise myself
and my art."
For the next 15 years Rubinstein would continue his career as not only a
legendary pianist and respected conductor, but also as a prolific, if
controversial composer. His European concertizing largely ended with a series
of farewell concerts in 1885-87. In every city on the tour Rubinstein performed
his famous series of seven historical recitals, each program being devoted to a
different composer or period. Settling once more in Russia, he resumed from
1887-91 the directorship of the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Here one evening
each week for 32 weeks he lectured and performed a new program for the
students. He also drastically tightened standards by immediately dismissing 25
percent of the students admitted under the previous slack admission standards.
In 1889 his jubilee and birthday were celebrated at the same time with great
festivity in Russia. After a final temporary move to Dresden from 1891 to 1894,
where for a time he taught Josef Hofmann, he returned to Russia. A final
concert was given on January 14, 1894 in St. Petersburg before his death at age
65 of heart disease on November 28th of the same year.
Rubinstein was one of the most prolific composers of the 19th century,
with a catalog of works ranging from several hundred solo piano compositions,
to concertos, symphonies, chamber music, operas, choral works, and songs. Much
of his piano music was written for his own concert use, and shows a
corresponding virtuoso display coupled with the melodic lyricism for which his
playing was noted.
The nine pieces
forming the Soirées musicales, Op. 109 were written in 1884. Each of the set is
dedicated to a pianist of the day. Among the more remembered ones are Sophie
Menter (1846-1918), the famous German pianist and a star of Liszt's class;
Francis Planté (1839-1934), the incredibly long-lived French pianist; Louis
Diémer (1843-1919), the distinguished French pianist and influential teacher of
Cortot; Robert Casadesus, and others; and Eugène d'Albert (1864-1932), Liszt's
"Little Giant" and later a composer of note. Menter's piece, entitled
Prélude, opens the set, and is appropriately fiery and passionate, as
supposedly was Menter herself. Planté's Badinages is actually a set of
nine small pieces of great wit, charm and brilliance. The mood of the Theme
varié is more classically restrained, perhaps in deference to Diémer himself,
who was a somewhat intellectual performer with a strong interest in early
French music. The final piece of the entire Soirées musicales is dedicated to
d'Albert. Fittingly enough, it is a fiery Etude for double notes and octaves
that the then 20-year old virtuoso must have adored.
Joseph Banowetz is internationally recognized as an artist whose
performances of the Romantic literature of the piano have earned the highest
critical acclaim. Fanfare Record Magazine (U.S.A.) termed him one of
"the pre-eminent 'three B's' of Liszt playing." His world-premiere
recording of the complete Balakirev Scherzos and Mazurkas for
Marco Polo was given a Deutschen Schallplattenkritik citation in West Germany
as an outstanding recording for 1987.
Born in the United States, part of Banowetz's early training was
received in New York City with Carl Friedberg, a pupil of Clara Schumann. After
continuing his studies at Vienna's Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst,
Banowetz's career was launched upon his graduating with a First Prize in piano.
He was then sent by the Austrian government on an extended European concert
tour. Subsequently he has performed throughout North America, Europe, Russia,
Asia, New Zealand, and Australia.
Following his first appearances in the Orient in 1981, Banowetz's tours
there have received ever-increasing enthusiastic response. He is the first
foreign artist ever to be invited by the Chinese Ministry of Culture both to
record and to give world premiere performances of a contemporary Chinese piano
concerto (Huang An-lun Piano Concerto, Op. 25b). Banowetz has recorded
with the Czechoslovak Radio Symphony, the Budapest Symphony, the Hong Kong
Philharmonic and the China Central Opera Orchestra of Beijing.
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RUBINSTEIN: Soirees Musicales, Op. 109